SERI KEMBANGAN, Jan 28 — Weekends are perfect for brief getaways to different neighbourhoods and towns, perhaps not so far as to cross multiple state lines, but somewhere new.
Well, perhaps not new new, but new to us. Places we may not have been or haven’t been to in years.
There’s something to be said about encountering almost familiar places with fresh eyes. Even better if our fresh eyes are being opened by more experienced ones, or in this case, those of a friend from the place in question.
Which is how we ended up one weekend in Serdang New Village (officially Seri Kembangan), zigzagging around narrow alleys to meet up with our friend Alex at Yan Yan Kopitiam.
To be honest, we aren’t sure we got the right place when we first arrive as the kopitiam seems quite empty in the morning.
Despite the busy pasar pagi (morning market) opposite the road, only a couple of tables are taken. Alex assures us it’s because the kopitiam only comes alive at night and promises that we will return in the evening. This does mean many miss out on a couple of simple treats earlier in the day.
He’s referring to a pair of no-name stalls, both manned by foreign workers (I think the respective stall owners are chatting over kopi at one of the two occupied tables). Both offer, interestingly enough, curry noodles — one features pai guat (pork ribs) and the other curry chicken. We order both types, naturally.
The pai guat curry noodles is full-flavoured though the meat is a tad chewy. The curry chicken noodles fares better, with generous cubes of potato and some blanched iceberg lettuce to make it a more satisfying one-dish meal. What a breakfast!
Come nightfall — well, not quite nightfall as the space fills up by 5:30pm (folks in the neighbourhood have their dinner rather early!) — and Yan Yan Kopitiam is transformed into a one-vendor restaurant. Such is the modus operandi of most traditional corner-lot coffee shops: kopitiam with a variety of stalls by day; daichow restaurant serving Chinese dishes to order by night.
In this case, the vendor is Yong Fu Wan Claypot Chicken Rice. Watching the cook handle multiple orders of claypot chicken rice at the same time — quite a juggling act — is an experience in itself. Perhaps Yong Fu Wan is not that well known outside of the greater Serdang area but you wouldn’t have guessed that judging by the crowds, especially later in the evening.
Most patrons are, of course, from the neighbourhood. Many will order ahead so they need not wait long when they arrive (having a table reserved means you wouldn’t have to join the ranks of those standing idly, looking down enviously at those tucking in already).
Our friend Alex tells us that many regulars call to tapao (take away), which is quite unusual because we rarely hear of folks having claypot chicken rice at home when some of its charcoal-infused smokiness might be lost. Apparently Yong Fu Wan’s rendition retains much of its aroma, together with that addictive layer of near-burnt rice crust at the bottom. (Though you can ask the cook to omit this, for health reasons.)
We start with some iced leung cha (herbal tea) to cool down from the heat earlier in the afternoon. A good way to whet one’s appetite is to begin with their double-boiled herbal soups. Ask the server what they have that day as they have daily specials; we opt for the old cucumber soup with spare ribs and the wolfberry chicken soup. Nourishing comfort food the way grandma used to make.
Our main order — a large claypot of charcoal-fire chicken rice — soon arrives. (The benefit of ordering ahead of time, thanks to Alex’s farsightedness; already there’s the crowd he warned us about.) Unlike some other versions of claypot chicken rice found elsewhere in the Klang Valley, this isn’t soggy from overzealous saucing; instead there’s just the right amount of fragrant superior dark soy sauce — more slicks than a deluge.
The aroma is a union of the charcoal fire, rich Chinese wax sausages and the briny salted fish used to flavour the rice and chicken: absolutely scrumptious. As we ladle the rice into our bowls, every grain is separate, again the result of restrained saucing.
If we had any complaints at all, it would be the ratio of chicken to rice is perhaps too much in the favour of the latter. “Rice bins” (fan tong) like me, however, will be perfectly happy with the state of things.
To make our meal less monotonous, we order a couple of side dishes. The chilled tofu with oyster sauce, fried garlic and fresh scallions is super smooth and goes down a treat. Our order of yao choy (“oil vegetables”) turned out to be blanched iceberg lettuce with soy sauce and fried shallots. Simple but works like a charm.
This is a simple meal, after all, albeit one that is executed very well. Enjoyed in the heartlands of Klang Valley, far from overly sanitised shopping malls and air-conditioning, we feel like are reclaiming part of our past. Our childhood and growing up years in smaller towns.
A simpler, happier — and perhaps more delicious — time.
Yan Yan Kopitiam
244, Jalan SK 6/2, Seri Kembangan, Selangor
Morning stalls: 7am till past noon.
Yong Fu Wan Claypot Chicken Rice: Open daily 5pm till late.
Call 017-380 8450 or 019-660 4134 to pre-order.
Chinese New Year: Closed from CNY Eve (February 15) onwards. Reopen on CNY Day 6 or 8 (21 or 23 February) — call to confirm.